Something roused Penelope from her sleep. She opened one eye and stared into the tawny face of Leona. Her instinct was to run, but then she remembered. This was a special day.
“Get up,” Leona roared. “It’s one minute after midnight.”
The limber monkey stretched and stood up. “Is everyone else awake?”
“I intend to find out. In the meantime, go get Mort. He always oversleeps.”
Penelope quickly scaled Mort’s tree, where she found the sloth snoring loudly. “Mort, get up. You’re going to miss the miracle.”
Mort smacked his lips together. “Humph.”
Penelope tried again. “Today is the day. Get up.”
The sloth lumbered from his branch, grumbling under his breath. “This better be worth it.”
“You always say that, and it always is. Come on.”
The unlikely pair walked the short distance to the grove of palms where all the animals had gathered. Leona raised her tail high in the air, signaling for attention. “Welcome all. It’s Christmas Day once again. And once again, you will find that you are able to speak in human voice.”
Mort snorted. “Is that all? I’m going back to sleep.”
Penelope nudged him.” “Shh.”
Flash the parrot laughed. “Big deal. I do that every day.”
Leona shook her head vigorously. “Attention, please. We don’t have long. You know that for one short hour we will all be able to converse with each other and all get along. After that, it’s back to our respective positions on the food chain.”
Jake the snake rattled off a comment. “How revolting.”
Penelope blinked back a tear. “Leona, why does it have to be that way? Why can’t we always get along?”
“It is the law of the jungle. We must take advantage of the opportunity we have now, though.”
Tentatively, animals began speaking to one another. Penelope faced Mort. “Let’s go say hello to Giggles.” The hyena saw them coming and went into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.
“Giggles, calm down. We came to visit. What are you doing for Christmas this year?”
The hyena hiccupped a few times and took a deep breath. “Well,” she said haltingly,” I hope to find some scraps Leona has left behind.”
Mort turned his back to the hyena. “That does it. I’m leaving. I’ve never understood carnivores.”
Giggles looked hurt. “Please Mort, stay awhile. I’ll refrain from talking about my diet.”
Penelope, ever the peacemaker, nodded. “Yes, stay, Mort. Our time will be up soon anyway. Let’s go see as many friends as we can.”
The trio didn’t have to move an inch, though, because their friends came to them.
Rosemary the giraffe spoke to Penelope. “How are you, darling?”
The monkey smiled. “I’m fine, Rosemary. It’s exciting to be able to speak to you again.”
“Yes, dear. I look forward to this every year. It’s a long way up to where my ears are, though. You may have to speak louder.”
Cleo the zebra joined their conversation. “Hello, hello, hello. I’m so excited. This is the best day of the year. Yes indeed. I so look forward to this day.” She stopped briefly to catch her breath. “Tell me, all, what have you been doing? What are your New Year’s resolutions going to be? Don’t you all look lovely? I had twin colts this year. Isn’t that a blessing? I understand I‘ve been on Africam a number of times. I‘m famous now. Who wants my autograph?”
Mort whispered to Penelope. “Does she ever shut up?”
“She’s trying to get a year’s worth of talking in. Be nice.”
Their conversation was interrupted by trumpeting from Alex the elephant. All the animals fell silent and looked toward him. There was a rustling in the trees above Alex, followed by a jungle yell. Then The Man came swinging through the trees.
Leona shot a warning glance through the group and they stepped back into the shadows. The man jumped from his vine and landed near Mort’s tree. Looking around, he scratched his head. “Woman say animals talk on Christmas Day. Woman hear things.”
With that, he climbed Mort’s tree and swung out of sight. Leona stepped cautiously from the cover of the jungle. “All clear. Unfortunately, it’s time to give you the two minute warning. Everybody back to your safe places.”
They all went home; some to their burrows, some to their trees, but all satisfied that once again, they had received the miracle of speech. However, Penelope still hasn’t convinced Mort it’s worth losing sleep over.
Author’s Note: There is a popular legend stating animals receive the gift of speech at midnight on Christmas Eve and speak for a brief time on Christmas Day.
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